WASHINGTON -- On Oct. 8, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will argue to the Supreme Court that all campaign contribution limits should be eliminated and that candidates should be able to accept unlimited donations.
Although McConnell is not a party in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court has granted the Senate minority leader time during oral argument to present his views: that campaign contribution limits are an unconstitutional burden on free speech and that the court should give contribution limits a higher level of scrutiny than it has in the past. McConnell will be represented by lawyer Bobby Burchfield.
McCutcheon v. FEC challenges the aggregate limit on donations to federal candidates, political parties and political action committees, which bars an individual donor from giving more than $123,200 in total during the 2014 election cycle. McConnell wants to go much further by forcing courts to treat all campaign contribution limits as they treat campaign expenditure limits, which were found to be an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision.
The senator, a prominent opponent of campaign finance reforms, was the lead plaintiff 10 years ago in McConnell v. FEC, a Supreme Court challenge to the McCain-Feingold Act. Burchfield argued in that case as well.
The individual contribution limits that McConnell also wants to eliminate currently restrict a donor to giving $2,600 to a candidate for each of the primary and general elections. Absent these limits, people running for federal office could accept checks of the same size routinely donated to super PACs.
And some donors are willing to write very generous checks. The largest single check written to a super PAC in the 2012 election was $5 million. The largest total amount from one donor to one super PAC in that election came from Texas industrialist Harold Simmons, who gave $20.5 million to American Crossroads.
The Supreme Court may not agree with McConnell that all contribution limits should be overturned now, but the justices could still accept his argument that contribution limits should be treated with the same level of scrutiny as restrictions on campaign spending. Such a ruling would overturn precedent going back to Buckley v. Valeo and set the stage for a future case to eliminate all such limits, according to Campaign Legal Center President Trevor Potter.
"While this request sounds legalistic in nature, if the plaintiffs and Senator McConnell are successful in convincing five Justices of this argument, then not only will the Court strike down the current aggregate contribution limits, but in the future it will be much easier for those seeking to remove all contribution limits and allow unlimited contributions to candidates and parties to challenge any contribution limit in court," Potter wrote on the center's blog.
McConnell's arguments will likely find a receptive ear among some of the conservative members of the court. Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas have all said that the distinction between contributions and expenditures is wrong and that the court should find contribution limits to be a violation of free speech rights. The views of the court's two other conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, are less clear.
"The time has come for the Court to revisit the distinction [between contributions and expenditures]," the amicus brief submitted by McConnell declares.
The brief argues that contribution limits restrict the First Amendment rights of speech and association for both contributors and recipients of campaign cash.
Contributors' free speech rights are restricted, according to McConnell, because "for many if not most persons," a campaign contribution is "by far the most effective means of supporting a preferred candidate" and monetary limits prevent a person from demonstrating the true intensity of his or her support in the way that someone volunteering time to a campaign can volunteer unlimited time. The recipients of that money also have their rights restricted because contributions "directly enable speech" and because they have a right to associate with contributors "at varying levels of intensity."
Supporters of contribution limits contend that the fact that the justices will hear McConnell's broader attack on campaign regulation gives credence to their arguments that the McCutcheon case is simply a Trojan horse for the future gutting of all contribution limits.
"This is a not very thinly disguised first step to try to get an absolute anything goes-no limits regime on campaign contributions," Charles Fried, a former solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan and author of an amicus brief submitted by Americans for Campaign Reform, earlier told The Huffington Post.
Also on HuffPost:
Thomas Steyer: $11.1 Million
Thomas Steyer, head of the San Francisco-based hedge fund Farallon Capital, gave $11,110,000 to a super PAC he founded to help elect more lawmakers who support action on climate change. CE Action Committee (formerly NextGen Committee) spent millions in 2013 to support Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in his successful special election Senate bid and to help Democrat Terry McAuliffe win the Virginia governorship. Steyer told Bloomberg Businessweek that he wants to push climate change into election conversations in 2014 and beyond. "If you look at the 2012 campaign, climate change was like incest -- something you couldn't talk about in polite company," he said. Steyer was not a super PAC donor in the 2012 election.
Michael Bloomberg: $8.7 Million
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $8,718,679 to super PACs through the end of 2013. He contributed more than $5.9 million to Independence USA PAC, his own group; $2.5 million to Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic Senate candidates; and $100,000 to Americans for Responsible Solutions, the pro-gun control super PAC founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). In 2013, Independence USA PAC spent big to support pro-gun control candidates in the special election for Illinois' 2nd Congressional District seat and in both the Virginia gubernatorial and attorney general races. In all three elections, the candidate supported by Bloomberg won.
Democratic Governors Association: $7.6 Million
The Democratic Governors Association gave $7,580,552 to its own super PAC, DGA Action, in the first six months of 2013. The group spends large sums on advertising and ground support for Democratic gubernatorial candidates across the country. In 2013, much of its spending went toward helping Democrat Terry McAuliffe win the Virginia governor's race. <em>Pictured: DGA Chairman and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin</em>
National Education Association: $5.7 Million
The National Education Association contributed $5,696,250 to super PACs in 2013. The union and its affiliated groups gave $5.3 million to its own super PAC, NEA Advocacy Fund; $175,000 to DGA Action; $100,000 to Senate Majority PAC; $100,000 to American Bridge 21st Century; $16,250 to Patriot Majority PAC; $5,000 to House Majority PAC; $5,000 to Americans for Responsible Solutions; and $3,800 to America Votes Action Fund.
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners: $3.8 Million
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners gave $3,822,972 to Working for Working Americans, a pro-labor super PAC. The 130-year-old union is funded by dues contributions made by its half-million members.
AFL-CIO: $2.4 Million
The AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions with more than 11 million members, gave $2,375,000 in 2013: $2.35 million to its Workers' Voice super PAC and $25,000 to House Majority PAC. <em>Pictured: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka</em>
AFSCME: $2.2 Million
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has given $2,187,250 to super PACs in 2013. The group contributed $1.15 million to the AFL-CIO's Workers' Voice super PAC; $250,000 to Senate Majority PAC; $250,000 to House Majority PAC; $175,000 to Women Vote!; $105,000 to Battleground Texas; $100,000 to American Working Families; $100,000 to American Bridge 21st Century; $40,000 to Win Minnesota Federal PAC; $16,250 to Patriot Majority PAC; and $1,000 to America Votes Action Fund. <em>Pictured: AFSCME Secretary-General Lee Saunders</em>
John Jordan: $1.7 Million
California vintner Thomas John Jordan gave $1.7 million to Americans for Progressive Action, a super PAC that supported Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez in the Massachusetts special Senate election in 2013. Gomez lost the race to now-Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Jordan told The Wall Street Journal, "I just couldn't sit by and watch and leave [Gomez] alone while the establishment Republican groups decided to sit on their hands and just leave him on the beach. I just couldn't do that." <em>Pictured: Former Massachusetts Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez</em>
Steve Mostyn, Amber Mostyn And Mostyn Law Firm: $1.4 Million
Texas trial lawyer and Democratic donor Steve Mostyn, through his Mostyn Law Firm, and his wife Amber Mostyn gave $1,392,500 to super PACs in 2013. The Mostyns, who emerged as major national donors in the 2012 election, gave $750,000 to Americans for Responsible Solutions, $255,000 to Battleground Texas, $250,000 to Planned Parenthood Votes, $100,000 to House Majority PAC, $25,000 to Ready for Hillary, and $12,500 to Texans for America's Future.
Harold Simmons: $1.2 Million
Before his death on Dec. 28, 2013, Texas industrialist Harold Simmons, in his own name and through his company Contran Corporation, gave $1.2 million to super PACs in 2013. Simmons, who had been the second biggest super PAC donor in 2012, gave $1 million to American Crossroads, the Republican super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove, and $200,000 to Congressional Leadership Fund last year.
American Bridge 21st Century/Foundation: $1.1 Million
The Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century and its nonprofit arm, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, combined to give $1,139,835 to super PACs in 2013. The majority of this money -- $1,104,687 -- was in form of staff payments by the nonprofit to the super PAC. The super PAC also gave $35,000 to Senate Majority PAC and $148 to the Jewish Council for Education and Research.
Bob Perry: $1.1 Million
Before his death in April 2013, GOP mega-donor Bob Perry gave $1.1 million to super PACs, including $1 million to Senate Conservatives Action, a group aligned with former senator and current Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, and $100,000 to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a pro-Mitch McConnell super PAC. Perry had been one of the top donors to Republican independent groups over the last decade. He was a major funder of the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth effort and was the third biggest donor to super PACs in the 2012 election, giving $23.45 million.
Laborers' International Union: $1.1 Million
The Laborers' International Union gave $1,057,800 to super PACs in 2013. The construction workers union and its associated groups contributed $250,000 to Senate Majority PAC, $250,000 to House Majority PAC, $250,000 to Defending Main Street SuperPAC, $250,000 to American Working Families, $50,000 to The Ninety-Nine Percent, and $7,800 to South Forward IE PAC. <em>Pictured: Union President Terrence O'Sullivan</em>
Jonathan Soros: $1 Million
Jonathan Soros, investor and son of the billionaire investor and Democratic donor George Soros, gave $1,005,000 to the super PAC he helped found, Friends of Democracy. The group works to enact campaign finance reform at the state and federal levels, in part by electing or defeating particular candidates. Friends of Democracy spent most of its money in 2013 to help fund a massive effort to enact reform legislation in New York state. Despite support from the majority of citizens and nearly every Democratic leader in the state, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the legislation died in the state Senate.
Carolyn Oliver: $1 Million
Carolyn Oliver, a doctor and lawyer based in Austin, Texas, contributed $1 million to Battleground Texas, a super PAC working to increase the strength of the Democratic Party in the Lone Star State. Oliver is a passionate supporter of Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), who is running for governor. She also donated $1 million to Davis' campaign.
David And Mary Boies: $1 Million
Lawyer David Boies and his wife, Mary Boies, combined to contribute $1 million to super PACs supporting Democrats in 2013. They donated $500,000 to Senate Majority PAC and $500,000 to House Majority PAC. <em>Pictured: David Boies</em>
Republican Governors Association: $1 Million
The Republican Governors Association contributed $1 million to its affiliated super PAC, RGA Right Direction, in 2013. <em>Pictured: RGA Chairman and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie</em>
Cooperative Of American Physicians: $915,974
The Cooperative of American Physicians, a membership organization for California doctors to purchase medical liability insurance, gave $915,974 to its own super PAC. The latter group supports candidates who back liability insurance reform, specifically the institution of caps on lawsuit damages, and other legislation to make it more difficult to sue doctors. In the 2012 election, the super PAC backed both Republican and Democratic candidates.
Richard Uihlein: $880,000
Richard Uihlein, the CEO of U-Line Corporation, gave $880,000 to conservative super PACs in the first half of 2013. He contributed $500,000 to Club for Growth Action, $280,000 to Liberty Principles PAC and $100,000 to Senate Conservatives Action.
Working For Working Americans: $875,000
Working for Working Americans, the super PAC funded by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, contributed $875,000 to other super PACs in 2013. The group gave $250,000 to Senate Majority PAC, $250,000 to House Majority PAC, $250,000 to Defending Main Street SuperPAC, $100,000 to Win Minnesota Federal PAC, and $25,000 to American Working Families. <em>Pictured: Members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners</em>
S. Donald Sussman: $850,000
S. Donald Sussman, hedge fund executive and husband to Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), contributed $850,000 to House Majority PAC in 2013. <em>Pictured: Donald Sussman (second from left) with his wife, Rep. Chellie Pingree (second from right)</em>
International Union Of Operating Engineers: $773,000
The International Union of Operating Engineers contributed $773,000 to super PACs in 2013. The union and its associated groups donated $250,000 to House Majority PAC, $250,000 to Defending Main Street SuperPAC, $105,000 to Senate Majority PAC, $75,000 to American Working Families, $60,000 to Workers' Voice, $25,000 to The Ninety-Nine Percent, and $8,000 to Lunch Pail Republicans IE-Only Committee. <em>Pictured: IUOE members protest in California</em>
Bernard Schwartz: $756,879
Bernard Schwartz, the former CEO of Loral Space & Communications, contributed $756,879 to super PACs supporting Democrats in 2013. He gave $506,879 to House Majority PAC and $250,000 to American Bridge 21st Century.
Communications Workers Of America: $720,000
The Communications Workers of America contributed $720,000 to super PACs in 2013. The union and its affiliated groups gave $550,000 to its own super PAC, Communications Workers of America Working Voices; $160,000 to Workers' Voice; and $10,000 to House Majority PAC. <em>Pictured: Communications Workers of America members protest</em>
Massachusetts Teachers Association: $700,000
The Massachusetts Teachers Association gave $700,000 to Senate Majority PAC in 2013. The organization's contributions helped to fund independent expenditures to support the successful Senate special election campaign of Ed Markey (D-Mass.). <em>Pictured: Massachusetts Teachers Association members rally in support of unionized teachers in Wisconsin</em>
Unite Here: $650,000
Unite Here, a diverse labor union representing workers in the airport, food service, gaming, hotel, textile and laundry industries, contributed $650,000 to the AFL-CIO's Workers' Voice PAC in 2013. <em>Pictured: Unite Here hotel strike in West Hollywood, Calif., in 2005</em>
American Federation Of Teachers: $650,000
The American Federation of Teachers contributed $650,000 to super PACs in 2013. The teachers union and its affiliated groups gave $250,000 to Workers' Voice; $200,000 to House Majority PAC; $100,000 to Senate Majority PAC; and $100,000 to American Bridge 21st Century. <em>Pictured: AFT President Randi Weingarten</em>
Joseph Craft: $600,000
Joseph Craft III, head of the coal company Alliance Resource Partners, contributed $600,000 to super PACs in 2013. Craft gave $500,000 to American Crossroads and $100,000 to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership.
Virginia James: $600,000
Investor Virginia James contributed $600,000 to conservative super PACs in 2013. She gave $500,000 to Club for Growth Action and $100,000 to American Commitment Action Fund. <em>Pictured: Club for Growth, a major recipient of James' contributions</em>
Americans For Responsible Solutions: $587,054
Americans for Responsible Solutions, the pro-gun control nonprofit founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Mark Kelly, contributed $587,054 in in-kind staff time to its super PAC of the same name in 2013. <em>Pictured: Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly</em>
Marc And Lynne Benioff: $550,000
Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff gave $500,000 to Americans for Responsible Solutions, the pro-gun control super PAC founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. The Benioffs also gave $25,000 each to Ready for Hillary, the super PAC promoting a potential 2016 presidential bid by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Marc Benioff was a major fundraiser in Silicon Valley for President Barack Obama's reelection campaign. These are his first super PAC contributions.
George Soros: $530,000
Investor George Soros contributed $530,000 to super PACs supporting Democratic candidates in 2013. Soros gave $500,000 to American Bridge 21st Century, $25,000 to Ready for Hillary and $5,000 to Friends of Democracy.
Ronald Firman: $526,000
Miami retiree Ronald Firman gave $526,000 to super PACs in 2013. Firman contributed $525,000 to Values Are Vital -- a super PAC founded to find a replacement for former Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), who retired after his arrest for purchasing cocaine -- and $1,000 to American Crossroads. <em>Pictured: Former Rep. Trey Radel, the reason for Firman's major contribution</em>
United Association Of Journeymen And Pipefitters: $505,500
The United Association of Journeymen and Pipefitters contributed $505,500 to super PACs in 2013. The union and its affiliated groups gave $500,000 to House Majority PAC and $5,500 to Senate Majority PAC.
International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers: $505,500
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers contributed $505,500 to super PACs in 2013. The union gave $500,000 to House Majority PAC and $5,500 to Senate Majority PAC. <em>Pictured: Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) speaks before an IBEW local</em>
George Marcus: $500,000
California real estate investor George Marcus gave $500,000 to super PACs in the first six months of 2013. He contributed $250,000 to House Majority PAC and $250,000 to Senate Majority PAC. Marcus chipped in more than $500,000 to super PACs in the 2012 election.
Sean Parker: $500,000
Facebook billionaire and Napster co-founder Sean Parker gave $500,000 to super PACs in the first six months of 2013. He contributed $250,000 to Americans for Responsible Solutions and $250,000 to Friends of Democracy. These are Parker's first super PAC contributions and could indicate the entrance of a new Democratic-leaning billionaire into the political arena.
Amy Goldman Fowler: $500,000
Amy Goldman Fowler contributed $500,000 to super PACs supporting Democrats in 2013. She gave $250,000 to American Bridge 21st Century and $250,000 to Planned Parenthood Votes.